<span class='p-name'>How to Find Creative Commons Licensed Images and Cite Them Correctly</span>

How to Find Creative Commons Licensed Images and Cite Them Correctly

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright-licenses known as CC licenses free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators.

To learn more about the licenses, please review this blog post. To learn how to select and include a CC license in the content that you create and share online…please review this post.

In this post I’ll review one of the easiest ways to get started in your use of Creative Commons licensed content, using CC licensed images.

Why should you use CC licensed images?

As you blog, create, or share online, you’ll often want to find great images to share with your content. Unless you’ve been steadily collecting your own photos to use in your blog posts and social media updates…you’ll be looking for content online.

Yes, you could just do a quick Google Search to find images to grab. You could also pay for service that gives you thousands of images to use in your content. Why test out either of these options? Many incredible content creators are already sharing their work online, free for you to use. All they ask is that you abide by the CC license they assign to it.

By finding, and citing the content, you’re indicating that you’re a savvy Internet user. You’re also giving credit to someone else online…and possibly making their day.

Resources for CC licensed images

There are multiple opportunities to find images that have been assigned a CC license.

Unsplash is a great site that releases gorgeous photos each day with a CC Zero license. This means that you’re free to use it, without asking for permission…and without giving attribution (credit) on your site. You can use the search tool from CC to make it a bit easier to find images from a broader option of resources. The Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons both have an extensive collection of CC licensed and public domain images that you can use on your site. I also recommend using this guide that was compiled from the great team at Canva.

Using Google Images

Many people will use Google to search for images to use online. Once they find something, they’ll download it to their computer and upload it for their purposes. You can fine tune the settings in Google Images to identify the content that is “labeled for reuse” and may have a CC license. This setting is found by clicking on the “Search Tools” button under your search bar in Google Images. From there, you click on “Usage Rights” and then identify the type of usage you’ll need.


Previously I used this option as I search for, and include images in my blog posts. I no longer use this procedure as it is hard to identify what specific CC license is given to the content. It is also a challenge as the license may have been given by a person that has already reused the content…and is not the creator.

Using Flickr

I now use Flickr to find and cite images for all of my blog posts, and website content. It’s just much easier to find what you’re looking for, cite it correctly, and get it from the content creator.

Head to Flickr and enter your keywords or search term in the window to the top right of the screen. Hit enter to pull up your results.


When the page displays your images, scroll down to the left and identify the drop down menu that says “Any license.” Click that menu and select the option that says “All creative commons.” Your search results will reload and now you’ll be presented with all of the images that have been assigned a CC license by their creator.


Scroll down and select the image that works best for your needs. If you don’t find something that works for you…revise your search keywords and repeat the process. Click on the image that works best, and a new page will open up with just that image. From here you can see who created the image, follow their content, “fave” that image, see the CC license, and download the image.


When I find an image I want to use in a post, I typically will “fave” the image to let the creator know that I thank them, or like their work. If I really like their work, I’ll click that “Follow” button to make sure I see more of it in my Flickr feed. This of course means that you’ll have to create a Flickr account. I don’t double-check the license at this point. My final step at this page is to download the image to my desktop and upload it to my blog post, or website. Leave that tab open with the image you just downloaded.

The flickr CC attribution helper

The real secret weapon behind my use of Flickr to find and cite CC licensed images is this tool by Alan Levine. The Flickr CC attribution helper is a little tool (bookmarklet) that you drag into your bookmarks on your browser toolbar. This tool is the only reason I still use the bookmarks toolbar on my browser. 🙂 Open up this page, click the blue button at the bottom that reads “flickr cc attribution helper” and drag it to your bookmarks bar.


Now go back to that page with the image you downloaded and uploaded to your blog or website. When you’re on that page, click the button that you just added to your bookmark bar. A pop-up window will load and scan the webpage to find the CC license. If the image is not CC licensed…you’ll get an error. If everything works perfectly, it’ll look like this.

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The pop-up window will give you three pieces that you can use. As you get started, I recommend just copying the selection in the “Attribution (text)” box and pasting that in below the image on your page.


Go create and share something!!!

There are many ways to dig deeper into the world of CC licensing. Keep it simple as you get started. Find images that you’re given permission to use. Use those images in your content. Assign the correct CC license to the content.

If you’re in education at any level, I recommend that you build this skill set into your repertoire. Make sure you teach this to your students and require this in their work as well. Discussions about intellectual property, and awareness of ownership and identity online is very important at any age.

At this point you should go, have fun, and create something awesome online. Be sure to share it out with others.


Cover image credit

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21 Comments How to Find Creative Commons Licensed Images and Cite Them Correctly

  1. aarondavis1

    It must be one of those posts to write, how to grapple with CC. I wrote a series last year to try and help teachers http://readwriterespond.com/?p=779. Yet as I walk through different classrooms, I see a change in thinking, encouraging/allowing students to experiment with different forms of media. Yet there is little consideration about what content they use.
    I attempted to capture this in my reflection on process http://readwriterespond.com/?p=873. Not sure what other steps there is. I feel that just as being open can be thought of as a mindset, the same could be said of CC and attribution.

  2. Pingback: How to Find Creative Commons Licensed Images an...

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